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ICANN rejects Bulgarian IDN info request

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Registries

A Bulgarian domain name association has had its request for information about ICANN’s rejection of the domain .бг itself rejected.

As I blogged last month, Uninet had filed a Documentary Information Disclosure Policy request with ICANN, asking it to publish its reasons for rejecting the Cyrillic ccTLD.

The organization wants to run .бг, which is broadly supported in Bulgaria, despite the fact that ICANN has found it would be confusingly similar to Brazil’s .br.

Uninet believes it needs more information about why the string was rejected, in advance of a planned appeal of its rejection under the IDN ccTLD Fast Track process.

But the group has now heard that its request “falls under multiple Defined Conditions of Nondisclosure set forth in the DIDP” because it covers internal communications and “trade secrets”, among other things.

ICANN’s response suggests instead that Uninet contact the Bulgarian government for the information.

I’m told that Uninet may now file a Reconsideration Request in order to get the data it needs, although I suspect that’s probably optimistic.

Ironically, neither Uninet’s request nor the ICANN response (pdf) have been published on its DIDP page.

UK domain chief awarded OBE

Kevin Murphy, December 31, 2010, Domain Registries

Lesley Cowley, chief executive of .uk registry Nominet, has been awarded the OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, the company has just announced.

She joins singer Annie Lennox, astronaut Piers Sellers, actor Burt Kwuok and hundreds of others in receiving the award this year.

For non-Brits, the OBE, short for Officer of the Order of the British Empire, is a fairly prestigious award dedicated to recognizing public service.

Cowley’s is “for services to the Internet and e.Commerce”.

Some sort of nod was inevitable, given Nominet’s key role in keeping the UK internet running, but I’m slightly surprised it has come so early in her career.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to call her “ma’am” if you see her at the next ICANN meeting, but she will be able to order new business cards with “OBE” after her name.

The full list of New Years Honours recipients can be downloaded from Direct.gov.uk.

Incumbents get the nod for new TLD apps

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2010, Domain Registries

Domain name registries such as Neustar, VeriSign and Afilias will be able to become registrars under ICANN’s new top-level domains program, ICANN has confirmed.

In November, ICANN’s board voted to allow new TLD registries to also own registrars, so they will be able to sell domains in their TLD direct to registrants, changing a decade-long stance.

Late last week, in reply (pdf) to a request for clarification from Neustar policy veep Jeff Neuman, new gTLD program architect Kurt Pritz wrote:

if and when ICANN launches the new gTLD program, Neustar will be entitled to serve as both a registry and registrar for new gTLDs subject to any conditions that may be necessary and appropriate to address the particular circumstances of the existing .BIZ registry agreement, and subject to any limitations and restrictions set forth in the final Applicant Guidebook.

That doesn’t appear to say anything unexpected. ICANN had already made it pretty clear that the new vertical integration rules would be extended to incumbent gTLD registries in due course.

(However, you may like to note Pritz’s use of the words “if and when”, if you think that’s important.)

Neustar’s registry agreement currently forbids it not only from acting as a .biz registrar, but also from acquiring control of greater than 15% of any ICANN-accredited registrar (whether or not its sells .biz domains).

That part of the contract will presumably need to be changed before Neustar applies for official registrar accreditation or attempts to acquire a large stake in an existing registrar.

VeriSign and Afilias, the other two big incumbent gTLD registries, have similar clauses in their contracts.

ICANN sets date for GAC showdown

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee will meet for two days of talks on the new top-level domains program in Geneva from February 28, according to GNSO chair Stephane Van Gelder.

As well as the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) for new TLDs, the meeting is also expected to address the GAC’s outstanding concerns with the .xxx TLD application.

While I’d heard Geneva touted as a possible location, this is the first time I’ve heard a firm date put to it. As well as Van Gelder, other sources have heard the same date.

Talks ending March 1 would give ICANN less than two weeks before its public meeting in San Francisco kicks off to get the AGB into GAC-compatible shape before the board votes to approve it.

Is that a realistic timeframe? I guess that will depend on how the GAC meeting goes, the depths of the concessions ICANN decides to make, how receptive the GAC is to compromise, and whether it is felt that more public comment is needed.

Also, as I speculated last week, ICANN may have to officially invoke the part of its bylaws that deals with GAC conflicts, which it does not yet appear to have done, if it wants to approve the Guidebook at the end of the San Francisco meeting in March.

If the program is approved in March, that would likely lead to applications opening in August.

There’s likely to be one ICANN board meeting between now and Geneva – its first meeting of the year is usually held in late January or early February – so there’s still time for ICANN to make changes to AGB based on public comment, and to get its process ducks in a row.

There’s also plenty of time for the GAC to provide its official wish-list or “scorecard” of AGB concerns, which I believe it has not yet done.

Van Gelder also wonders on his blog whether the Geneva meeting will take place in the open or behind closed doors.

ICANN’s director of media affairs, Brad White, put this question to ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush during a post-Cartagena interview. This was his answer:

We haven’t actually resolved the rules of engagement with the GAC on this particular meeting but the standard position for all organizations within ICANN is that they are open… On the other hand if at any point think we the negotiation could be assisted by a period of discussing things in private I guess we could consider that.

That looks like a “maybe” to me.

ICANN to tackle Trojan TLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2010, Domain Registries

When failing community-based top-level domain registries attempt to change their business models, ICANN may in future have a new way of dealing with them.

That seems to be a possible result of Employ Media’s controversial .jobs liberalization plans and the subsequent Reconsideration Request, which I blogged about last week.

The .jobs reconsideration revealed that not only are Reconsideration Requests a rubbish way to appeal ICANN’s decisions, but also that the Registry Services Evaluation Process is often a rubbish way to handle major contract changes.

The RSEP was introduced back in 2005 in belated response to a couple of controversial “services” that VeriSign, testing boundaries, had planned to unilaterally introduce in the .com registry, notably Site Finder and the Waiting List Service.

But since then the process has been used as a general-purpose tool for requesting changes to registry contracts, even when it’s debatable whether the changes fit the definition of “registry services”.

For example, when .jobs launched five years ago, it was put into Employ Media’s contract that the TLD was designed for companies to register their brands and list their jobs, and that’s all.

But that model didn’t work. It’s one of the least successful TLDs out there.

So the registry decided it could make more money with general purpose jobs boards, using generic .jobs domains. But it did not necessarily want to let existing independent jobs sites take part.

For want of a better term, I’ll call this an example of a “Trojan” TLD – a registry that gets its attractive TLD string approved by ICANN after making a certain set of promises, then later decides to move the goal posts to broaden its market, potentially disenfranchising others.

I’ve no reason to believe it was a premeditated strategy in Employ Media’s case, but precedent has now been set for future TLD applicants to use “community” as a foot in the door for broader aspirations.

To take a stupid, extreme, unrealistic example, imagine that ICM Registry’s .xxx flops badly. Should the company be allowed to start selling all the good .xxx domains to churches and other anti-porn campaigners? That would be a pretty big departure from its promises.

There were similar concerns, although not nearly as loudly expressed, with regards to Telnic’s recent contract changes, which will allow it to start registering phone number domain names in .tel, despite years of promises that it would not.

Go Daddy’s policy chief Tim Ruiz objected to the proposal on the grounds that it would be “unfair to other [.tel] applicants and potential applicants to allow an sTLD to change its purpose after the fact.”

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, acknowledged these problems in its decision on .jobs in Cartagena (pdf), concluding that it:

thinks that the Board should address the need for a process to evaluate amendments that may have the effect of changing, or seeking to change, an sTLD Charter or Stated Purpose of a sponsored, restricted or community-based TLD.

The BGC seems to be saying that the RSEP is not up to the task of dealing with community-based TLDs that later decide their business plans are not the money-spinners they had hoped and want to loosen up their agreed community restrictions.

The committee went on to say that:

Because such a process may impact gTLDs greatly and is a policy issue, the GNSO is the natural starting point for evaluating such a process. We therefore further recommend that the Board direct the CEO to create a briefing paper for the GNSO to consider on this matter, and for the GNSO to determine whether a policy development process should be commenced.

So the GNSO will soon have to decide whether new policies are needed to deal with broad contract changes at failing community TLDs.

Any new policies would, I believe, be binding on community TLDs approved under the new gTLD program as well as older sTLDs, so it will be an interesting policy track to follow.